San Antonio Express News reports that a lawsuit is being filed against Corrections Corporation of America for permitting a hazing tradition at Bartlett State Jail that ultimately led to the sexual assault of an inmate.
Bartlett State Jail is a prison facility for low-level inmates serving short-term sentences. The tradition of hazing inmates who are near to their release date involves forcibly removing their pants, turning them upside down and slamming them against the glass of the guard station. It is impossible for guards to ignore the behavior, as they are literally faced with the exposed backside of the inmate who is being hazed. Bartlett’s Warden Eduardo Carmona and other CCA executives were previously aware of the tradition and yet had never attempted to prevent it from happening.
According to the court documents, the hazing incident that resulted in the sexual assault was a three hour ordeal in which every single inmate in a 55-person block was subjected to the hazing practice while the single officer on duty — who was not only in charge of the victim’s block but three other 55-person blocks — did nothing to intervene.
Typically, in correctional facilities that follow best practices, there should be two officers on duty at all times so that one can intervene while the other calls for backup. Understaffing as a cost-cutting measure is routine at CCA run facilities and, clearly, it results in inmate-on-inmate violence with no intervention by staff.
Texas Civil Rights Project and Prison Legal News have filed suit against Corrections Corporation for withholding information around the tragic deaths of women at CCA-run Dawson State Jail. At a press conference on May 1, TCRP attorney Brian McGiverin stated that:
"CCA hides the truth about its management because it knows the truth is horrific. But they won’t get away with it. Texans know how to keep government accountable. Our laws entitle us to check its homework and keep it honest. At Dawson State Jail and beyond, we intend to show CCA it is not above the law."
The Dawson State Jail has come under fire in the last few months after a string of deaths, including that of a premature infant born in the facility without medical personnel present, which have been covered here. TCRP has filed requests under the Freedom of Information Act which would require CCA to divulge information surrounding the deaths; so far, CCA has not complied, opening itself up to potential legal ramifications. As a result of the disturbing conditions at Dawson, the jail is being targeted for closure during this legislative session.
The GEO Group and Warden James Copeland are the subject of a recent lawsuit after the December 29, 2011 death of Darrell Clayton Delany at company's Central Texas Detention Center in San Antonio.
According to the petition (attached) filed in the 37th District Court, Delany suffered "suffered severe trauma, extreme physical injuries, extreme pain and suffering, and death" at the facility. The suit further claims that his death was caused by "specific breaches of duty by defendants GEO, and Copeland, and as a result of direction given by GEO's corporate officers which include grossly inhuman treatment, abuse, neglect, illegal and malicious conditions of confinement, and subsequent cover up of wrongdoing."
We'll keep you posted on developments with this case.
In an 8-1 opinion last week issued in Minneci v. Pollard, the Supreme Court held that an inmate in a privately contracted federal prison cannot maintain a Bivens action against facility employees to redress injuries he sustained as a result of their neglect.
The plaintiff, Pollard, a prisoner in the Taft Correctional Institute operated by The GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut Corrections Corporation), fractured his elbows in a fall outside of the prison’s butcher shop in 2002. He alleges that through the neglect of Wackenhut staff, he suffered immeasurable pain and “two permanently damaged arms”.
Although the Ninth Circuit found existing California tort law to be an insufficient remedy for Pollard, the Supreme Court found that "the state tort law authorizes adequate alternaive damages actions -- actions that provide both significant deterrence and compensation."
The ruling is significant for states (including Texas) “where federal prison facilities are being run by private companies”, but it is also important to note that the decision is narrowly focused on cases in which an appropriate state remedy exists that provides protection to the plaintiff. The greater question of whether or not an employee of a private corporation under contract with the federal government “acts under color of federal law” for the purpose of Bivens remains unanswered.